Friday, July 30, 2004

French Friday

Today I saw two wildly different French films, Jacques Tati's 1967 masterpiece PLAYTIME and Yann Samuell's new, oddball romance LOVE ME IF YOU DARE. The titles are especially apt. The Tati film is a glorious romp. Samuell's pic rebuffs the attempts to embrace it, which I wasn' t eager to do after 93 minutes with the characters.


The twisted romantic comedy LOVE ME IF YOU DARE (JEUX D'ENFANTS) borrows the whimsical and fanciful nature of AMELIE in order to use and abuse it. Part melodramatic love story, part wicked subversion of such a thing, the film follows Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard) from childhood to their mid-30s as they play their game of dares.

Whoever possesses a tin box decorated as a carousel dares the other to do something often outrageous. Upon the task's completion, the box and the power change hands. The game progresses from grade school mischief, such as saying naughty words in class, to risktaking with serious stakes, like standing in front of an oncoming train and leaving a prospective bride at the altar).

These grand gestures are supposed to convince us of their great destined romance, but more often than not it signifies behavior ranging from perversely cruel to grossly immature. It's JACKASS rendered as a French romantic comedy. As children Julien and Sophie come across as a couple of brats. As adults they're world-class, self-absorbed jerks at best. Truthfully, stronger words than "jerks" come to mind.

Director Yann Samuell's anti-AMELIE echoes the distinctive look of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's film. Here, though, the saturated colors serve as an ironic gloss on an ugly little story. Unlike Amélie, who selflessly spread joy to the community, Julien and Sophie dredge up misery in one another and everyone they encounter. AMELIE'S fairy tale was prime material for being reworked as a cynic's account of obsessive love, but LOVE ME IF YOU DARE is not that film. Rather it is Laetitia Colombani's HE LOVES ME...HE LOVES ME NOT (À LA FOLIE...PAS DU TOUT), with Audrey Tautou putting a counterspin on her best-known role and film, that provides a palatable sourness to AMELIE'S sugary buzz.

Grade: D+

PLAYTIME (Jacques Tati, 1967)

I first saw Jacques Tati's PLAYTIME last summer as part of watching all the Monsieur Hulot films released as Criterion DVDs. M. HULOT'S HOLIDAY and MON ONCLE delighted me, but PLAYTIME was a tougher nut to crack. With much of the action taking place in large spaces, it is not well-suited for being viewed on television, especially on a 27" set. Seeing it projected in 70mm tonight at the Wexner Center was nothing short of a revelation.

Tati reprises his Hulot character, a genial fellow with a loping walk. (Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean could have descended from Hulot, although he's prone to mean-spirited outbursts that are unfathomable for Tati's kind soul.) Yet the film isn't about Hulot, or anyone in particular, for that matter. Instead PLAYTIME observes a day of the ordinary moments in modern life. People mill about a large airport terminal and various undistinguished buildings in the film's first half. Then they congregate for a raucous time at a Parisian restaurant's error-plagued opening night.

The bland, massive architectural structures dominate, blocking out the sun and the city landmarks. In one of PLAYTIME'S funniest recurring gags, travel posters to London, Mexico, Brazil, and Hawaii feature the same anonymous office building and a cultural appropriate symbol. 37 years later the joke is all too accurate.

Tati pokes fun at technology and its supposed efficiency. A security guard punches a series of buttons to inform someone that Hulot is there for an appointment. The man walks down a long hallway to usher Hulot into the room right behind where he had been sitting. In a masterful shot laying out a large office full of cubicles, two men communicate by telephone. One walks from his office to just outside the other's to retrieve account information. Then returns to his office and passes along the requested data.

Yet in spite of the implicit criticism Tati points toward bureaucracy, confusion, and the needless complexity in modern life, he is hopeful that people will adapt. Order and beauty can be found in the chaos. What is the film's joyful second half but an absurdist wink at technology's limitations and a joyful celebration of humanity's ability to make the best of a bad situation. Hulot accidentally tears part of the wall and ceiling, yet an American executive turns the damaged decorations into a gateway for a cozy party. A waiter with torn pants gives the good pieces of his uniform to the co-workers who come to him with a torn jacket and a sauce-drenched bowtie. The doorman perpetuates the illusion that one of the entrance doors remains.

If any doubt remains as to where Tati stands on contemporary society and construction, one of the final images compares the soft curves of flower stems and streetlights. Beauty is still being created, even if it is in concrete and glass.

PLAYTIME is one of the most complex visual feasts ever put on screen. Tati's orchestration of jokes in different areas of the frame is virtuoso work. This film demands multiple viewings, preferably of a 70mm print, to spot everything. Whether he's giving a priest an inadvertent halo or showing the unappetizing effect a green neon light has at a food counter, Tati's humor doesn't call attention to itself but asks the viewer to look closer.

Grade: A

The Village

Is it midnight yet?  Yes?  OK, good.

Buena Vista has done all they can to keep reviews of M. Night Shyamalan's THE VILLAGE from going to press before opening day.  For good reason, I should note.  Surely the studio is concerned about piracy, but spoilers are deadlier to this film's box office health than a shaky camcorder MPEG video. 

Shyamalan made his name on THE SIXTH SENSE'S late twist and has gone to great pains to ensure that little information is known about his films before they open.  These days trailers and other aspects of the marketing campaigns reveal too much information.  Viewers feel like they know everything that will happen before they see the films and, in actuality, probably do.  Not for Shyamalan's movies.  He gives us just enough to pique our interest and no more.  I didn't know what UNBREAKABLE was about until seeing it at the press screening.  That's a rare occurrence, especially with a big budget Hollywood film.  Shyamalan has proven that he can deliver an audience based on his reputation and the general story idea.  Thus, he gets to tease viewers with glimpses rather than cycle through every plot point in a two and a half minute advertisement.

I wasn't permitted to see the film until tonight, the night before opening day, at 9:00 p.m, and even then I, along with all other attendees, needed to present a photo ID to gain admittance to the screening.  Fortunately a fingerprint, a blood sample, and a notarized letter of approval from my fourth grade teacher weren't necessary.  So, now that it's July 30th, the embargo is no longer in effect.

Some quick impressions...  Shyamalan's filmmaking continues to improve.  THE VILLAGE is his best film because its power doesn't rely entirely on the end, although this one is sure to send heads spinning.  He's a confident director who knows how to play the audience like a piano without pounding the keys.  He uses the smallest gestures to great effect.  The on-screen violence in THE VILLAGE is minimal and not at all graphic, but it pierces because of its direct, unblinking presentation.  Shyamalan is patient, letting our minds fill in the empty spaces on the screen and the soundtrack to create a sense of dread.  His lyrical direction and use of space display his growing formal control.

The cast is stellar from small, inconsequential players to the main cast.  As the blind daughter of William Hurt's character, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard's daughter and star of Lars von Trier's upcoming MANDERLAY, announces herself as an actress to watch.  Featured veterans include Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Adrien Brody, and Cherry Jones. are featured.  That's not to mention familiar faces whose names might not ring a bell, like Judy Greer, Michael Pitt, Frank Collison, and Liz Stauber.

Thematically, religion/spirituality is at the core of Shyamalan's work, and there's a lot in this area worth exploring in THE VILLAGE.  This is also his most political film, which should lead to some fascinating discussion.  Now, however, is not the time for that.  I envy those who will see this great film for the first time and have no desire to spoil it.  Deeper examination of it can wait, at least until this weekend.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Site additions

Just a note to let you all know that I've added a couple links and an e-mail address in the sidebar.  All correspondence can be sent to  Also, comments have been enabled. 

BTW, props to Blogger for improving the interface.  This is much more flexible than the previous iteration.

Coming up:  Is LITTLE BLACK BOOK the worst film of the year?

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


As previous visitors have noticed, this blog has received a facelift.  Slowly but surely, I'm getting back into the blogging groove, and why not, considering that blog talk is a hot media topic during the Democratic National Convention coverage.  (That the mainstream media doesn't appear to understand it is something else entirely.  Monday night Wolf Blitzer and the CNN crew reacted to a blog explainer piece as if they'd just been told that bloggers were uploading their thoughts from bioports a la the gamers in eXistenZ.)

I intend to activate user comments and post an e-mail address specifically for the blog.  You know, make this interactive and stuff.

A review for THE ADVENTURES OF OCIEE NASH is finished, save for a few nips and tucks. 

Cinematic food for thought...what parallels can be drawn between Francis Ford Coppola's THE CONVERSATION  and Edgar Allen Poe's THE TELL-TALE HEART?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Requiem for an E-mail Address

As I write this, my first e-mail address may finally be out of commission.  R.I.P

I obtained the address in the spring of 1995 from the Greater Columbus Freenet.  Actually, the first address was the unwieldy  (Somewhere along the line it was shortened.)  I didn't have a strong conception of the internet at the time.  In fact, I was wowed by the ability to see pages of text.  A trip to the Westerville Public Library introduced me to the wonders of the Mosaic browser and the graphics that my freenet connection displayed only as [GIF] and [JPEG]. 

Like other net-related things, the so-called freenet became a pay service.  The price wasn't much, but they claimed to need the nominal charges to keep it running.  At the time I was still using this as my primary address and was willing to continue to do so, especially since I could check it for e-mail from anywhere.  As the years intervened, though, the Pine e-mail program proved to be clunky and unfriendly to more common use of html coding in messages, although it was virus-proof.  The spam increased to an alarming degree.  (I estimate that I was getting three to four hundred spams a day.)  Ultimately, it outlived its usefulness.  With free e-mail available from Yahoo!, Hotmail, and the like, there was no reason to keep the address.  Anyone who needs to get in touch with me should have one of my other addresses, so that justification for keeping it plugged in has fallen away. 

But let that humble freenet e-mail address stand proud for many good years of service.

(Hey, I know this is the first item I've written here in some time, and it's about an e-mail address of all things.  I have to ease back into the habit.  Hold your breath for some thoughts on THE AMAZING RACE, the recent films of Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola's startling run in the 70s.  "He'd kill us if he got the chance.")